Lobo Invitational — Albuquerque, N.M.
When/Where: Saturday, UNM North Golf Course in Albuquerque, N.M.
Men: 10:15 a.m. MT — five kilometers
Women: 10:45 a.m. MT — five kilometers
With sweeps of the Mountain West Championships and trips to the NCAA Championships each of the last five years, New Mexico cross-country is a proven commodity.
And considering what’s in store in 2014, the Lobos will get to prove themselves again.
After another superb season last year, the University of New Mexico men’s and women’s cross-country teams are preparing to defend their conference titles and continue their streak of strong performances at the NCAA Championships during the 2014 campaign.
The Lobos — who debut this Saturday at the Lobo Invitational — have been selected as conference favorites for the fourth straight year and are ranked in the top-20 of the national polls, which indicates another year of success in Albuquerque.
But New Mexico, under eighth-year head coach Joe Franklin, will have its share of tests throughout the season.
Between competing against a strong Mountain West and hosting a stacked field at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships in November, the Lobos will be challenged during 2014.
However, it’s a test this proven team has aced for the last five years.
New Mexico, which has the second-longest active streak of conference-title sweeps in NCAA Division I history, is primed to hoist the MW titles in 2014 behind a proven corps of runners for both the men and women.
Add in the fact the Lobos have been a staple at the NCAA Championships six years running for the women had five years in a row for the men, and UNM has the credentials for another banner year.
The New Mexico women, who are ranked 11th in the preseason U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association coaches’ poll, have a prime shot to duplicate their success from 2013, where they won a sixth-consecutive MW title and placed 10th at the NCAA meet — their sixth straight top-20 finish.
The women return a vast majority of their squad from last year, including 2013 All-American Charlotte Arter. Arter, who has been a consistent No. 2 runner for the Lobos her two year in Albuquerque, has the opportunity to lead a squad that features four of its scorers from last year’s NCAA Championships.
The returning talent alone speaks volumes to New Mexico’s prospects with a legitimate top five coming back for another year on the grass together.
But Franklin has added some additional talent into the fold, as well.
Harvard transfer Emily Reese and English imports Anna Burton, Sophie Connor and Emily Hosker-Thornhill can all contribute right away. Reese was 16th at the 2013 Ivy League Championships while Burton, Connor and Hosker-Thornhill have high-level experience from the UK.
Combined with the returning runners, New Mexico has the makings for postseason success, including defending their conference title against a strong Boise State squad and its star Emma Bates.
On the men’s side, the story is largely similar to the women’s with strong veterans and talented newcomers.
But instead of a stable full of returning runners, the 17th-ranked men will have to put together a new lineup after losing three of their postseason scorers to graduation.
Adam Bitchell, a two-time All-Mountain West performer, looks to be one returning scorer for Franklin as he was part of the core four — along with alumni Luke Caldwell, Patrick Zacharias and Sean Stam — that led the Lobos the past two years.
Bergin and Studley, both via the United Kingdom, have posted top performances at the British Universities Championships while Wakefield, a Washington State transfer from Australia, was the Cougars’ No. 2 during the 2013 postseason.
To that end, the New Mexico men can repeat their success from last year and earn their sixth-straight conference crown versus a strong field that features No. 30 Colorado State, Air Force and Boise State.
However, the Lobos will have to wait until the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 3 to see their top runners debut.
For now, New Mexico will host the 14th straight Lobo Invitational on Saturday at the UNM North Golf Course, with 5-kilometer races for both the men and the women.
Almost all of New Mexico’s heavy hitters will continue training and bypass this early season meet, which gives the younger runners a chance for competition experience at the Lobo Invitational.
The meet starts at 8:00 a.m. with a 5-kilometer Community Fun Run, which will also feature high school “C” athletes. The high school varsity races will take place afterward, with the boy’s 5K at 8:45 a.m. and the girl’s 5K at 9:30 a.m.
The collegiate division kicks off at 10:15 a.m. with the men racing a 5K, while the women’s 5K starts at 10:45 a.m.
High school JV races will go off at 11:15 a.m. for the girls with the boy’s race will start at noon. Awards for the high school races are at 1 p.m.
Check back a GoLobos.com on Friday for entry lists, and on Saturday for results and a recap of UNM action.